Culture Oral History Transcribed Interviews
Interview with Peter Hilkes (PH)
Conducted by Ron Vossler, Interviewer (RV)
1 June 1998, Munich, Germany
Transcription By Margaret Templin
Editing and proofreading by Brigitte von Budde and Mary Lynn
||I'm Ron Vossler and I am talking today on June 1, 1997,
with Peter Hilkes at the East Europa Institute in Munich.
Do you want to say some things about yourself and briefly
describe your background?
||Well, I don't have any German-Russian background. My background
is much more Dutch. Hilkes is a typical Dutch name. I'm working
with the Ost Europa Institut; it could be translated into
Institute for Eastern European Studies since January, but
I worked here from 1987 until 1994, and with a short interruption
returned in January, and I am dealing from 1984 on with German-Russian
||The first part - if you could talk about the general emphasis
of your work as it relates to the Germans from Russia.
||This is one and very important part of my work as a research
fellow at the Ost Europa Institut. Right now am I working
on a research project dealing with the Black Sea Germans.
Officially the program is called, "Migration and Integration
of Germans in Ukraine," which means the migration processes
of Germans have been born in Ukraine, especially in the Black
Sea area, who have been deported to Kazakhstan, Siberia, and
Tajikistan, and then immigrated to Germany.
Another important part of that research project is an
aspect which right now is very important in the field of
German Ukrainian relations on the whole, the integration
of the Germans in Ukrainian society. That's why the project
is called this. Besides, I am dealing with the whole German-Russian
question, in general. I am writing expert analysis for courts
and for ministries, etc.
||So you work for the government?
||Yes. Just partly, just by order. If they order a kind of
analysis, well, it's just on me to write it. I'm not the only
one, of course.
||Why does the German government need to have people like
you to make some of these determinations about the Germans
from Russia? In what sense or purpose does it serve?
||First of all, it is important for the actual situation.
You have to have people who are just working on the actual
analysis, on the actual situation, for example, in Kazakhstan,
Siberia, Ukraine. All of those experts or scholars get very
fractured information about processes going on over there.
That's one reason.
The second reason has to do with internal aspects relating
to the integration situation in Germany itself. You always
have to take into account the policy which has been done
for the immigrants coming into Germany, who are called Aussiedlers.
Always, and especially right now, there is to be seen a
very close connection with situations over there.
Officially, Germany is not a country of immigration, but
we have hundreds of thousands of people coming to Germany
within the last few years. Especially due to the criticism
which has been expressed by many parts of the German population
here. Officially, there is a need for quota or limitation.
Just to say that we can take, let's say only two hundred
thousand people a year. It turned out, due to the critics
of the indigenous population in Germany, that this quota
has been reduced more and more.
This is a very difficult situation to describe in just
a few words but the policy which has been undertaken for
Germans in the former Soviet Union is closely connected
to the integration policy. So, if you have problems with
the integration situation, then you have to do something,
you have to react.
Our government and our provincial governments, on the
basis of a compromise, don't have a quota but their numbers
are now reduced more and more. One important reason why
we need experts is, in 1989 there were about one million
Germans still living in Kazakhstan, according to the census.
Now officially, there are only three hundred and seventy
thousand left. The question is, how do you handle those
people, what is going on in Kazakhstan, and so on? Just
to know a little more about that, you have to have people
or institutions who work with it.
||Is there any other area besides Kazakhstan where there still
is a large concentration of German Russians?
||The largest concentration of German Russians can be found
in West Siberia. Which means the districts of Altai, Tomsk,
Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tyumen, and the Omsk areas which
are very close together.
||Then how many would be there, do you imagine?
||I guess more than five hundred thousand.
||Only in West Siberia?
||That's what I guess, because to say something about concrete
numbers is very difficult because there is no basis for it.
The last census was in 1989. It is very difficult to say exactly
and precisely how many there still are, but that is a number
which might be quite realistic.
||Of these three hundred thousand in Kazakhstan and five hundred
thousand in Western Siberia, how many want to come to Germany?
||That's a good question and the most decisive question in
the whole context. I think if we talk about, about 1.3 to
5 million Germans still living in the countries of the former
Soviet Union, then it might be that more than half of them
want to immigrate to Germany, but there are restrictions in
our laws. There are also restrictions in the countries where
they are emigrating from.
There are very different reasons for people to immigrate
or to stay at the place where they are. We have more and
more families being separated by the German laws. One part
of the family is already living in Germany, and the other
part is still living in Kazakhstan or Siberia. They have
no chance to come together in Germany because part of the
family have non-German spouses or husbands or the children
are non-Germans. That's the reasons why they, according
to our legislation, don't have any chance at all or a small
chance to immigrate to Germany. That's the reason they have
to stay there.
||It sounds like a real complex problem. Could you give us
briefly the origin of this problem, how it began, how it has
come to this situation in 1997, and does it have historical
|| Yes, of course. Maybe you are familiar with the history
of the German-Russians. They were invited by Catherine the
second and left Germany, especially for religious and economic
reasons, from the German provinces in the 18th century.
They came to Russia, and built up their colonies, daughter
colonies, and mother colonies, 'Mutter' and 'Töchterkolonien'
as it is called in German. The first colonies were built
in the Volga area. Then with Alexander the second, thousands
of people from Baden, Baden-Württemberg came to the Black
Sea area. They built their colonies there. Then they built
new colonies because there wasn't space enough or other
problems. They built new colonies in Siberia or even Kazakhstan,
or Uzbekistan or what is now Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan today.
They had their own lives, their own villages, and their
own schools. They were just parents of the society. They
had their German language and their special culture, and
could preserve their German language and culture.
Certainly, World War II was a decisive moment in German
Russian history because they were accused of collaboration
with Hitler and many of them were deported.
The Volga Republic came to an end in 1941 and the first
deportations were already started in the end of the 1930s.
People were deported to the high north, to Kazakhstan, Middle
Asia, and Siberia. Those who survived could arrange their
lives correspondingly normal after 1955 due to a kind of
a 'cast' as it is called. There was a rehabilitation in
1964 but no chance to go to the old places where they had
lived before. That's very important to know.
They were like many non-Russians. A population belonging
to the ... Sovieticus, the propaganda, the state, everything
was arranged according to that purpose. It turned out that
Glasnos and Perestroika also helped the Germans to develop
their own interest, their expectation about their own future,
not organized by the Communist Party.
In 1989, the Rebirth Society, the Wiedergeburt, was built
in Moscow, and from then on the Germans more and more began
to organize. Especially the Andoff, the Soviet Union in
1991 was a very big event. From that time on, more and more
Germans left the country because they didn't see any prospects
where they were living.
The Soviet legislation had treated emigration processes
more freely than before, which means at the end of the 1980s,
more than one hundred thousand came to Germany in one year.
Just imagine, in 1985 we had about four hundred thirty
seven thousand. I'll have to check that to be precise. Then
in 1989, we had already ninety eight thousand and it grew
to two hundred seventeen thousand within one year.
|| Just a quick question. I spoke to Hampton Bash some. He
had come to Germany in early 1970s, 1972 I think, and was
one of the first several hundred families, at that time. Someone
I was speaking to asked why would the Soviet Union even allow
a trickle of this immigration to Germany in the 1970s? Was
there a particular reason to defuse the political situation
at home with the promise of emigration? Or was it just a bureaucratic.....
|| Well, both of it. At the beginning of the 1970s, we had
the start of a new policy towards Eastern Europe. The policy
of, Entspannungspolitik, a policy of detention.
Willie Brandt, the first Social Democratic translator,
and so on, developed a new kind of policy toward Eastern
Europe. As a result, there was a kind of defector which
almost increased unrest in the former Soviet Union because
people wanted to get rid of them.
They made a compromise and let the people immigrate to
Germany. It was a Policy of Compromises. There was an autonomy
movement and it was cut down. There were meetings of people
in several areas where the German Russians lived and it
was, of course, cut down by the KGB.
Many Germans had their own kind of communication systems
and they were very successful in handling it. Not all actions
were made public, therefore, many things could be handled
secretly. In the 1970s there was a compromise between the
Soviet and the German governments so that many of those
people could immigrate to Germany. But those people, just
to add that, which is very, very important, we have a look
upon the emigration movement as a whole.
People having come to Germany until the end of the 1980s,
seriously had to fight for their immigration. Many of them
asked for immigration not once but five, ten and even more
times and were always stopped by the KGB and the authorities.
For example, teachers, university teachers lost their jobs
and before they immigrated to Germany, they were on the
lowest level of workers. They worked at the train stations
and even the women had to handle very heavy boxes and so
on. That was their job and they were university teachers.
From the end of the 1980s on, the situation improved significantly
and many, from that time on, came to Germany. They did it
by only one 'Antrag' as it is said in Germany. One application
to immigration and that's all. They didn't lose their jobs,
everything was fine. They just lived their normal lives,
and then they packed their things and immigrated to Germany.
Of course, they had to have bureaucratic obstacles, problems
and all those things.
As a matter of fact, there's a kind of difference between
both groups. People, even immigrants who have lived in Germany
a little longer, say that the people coming now to Germany
as German Russians are not as German Russian as they had
been. There is kind of quality change.
||Is that the split between Bessarabian Germans from Russian
and the Spätussiedlers? Is it correct to say the difference
is that Bessarabia Germans had come back early before World
War II to Germany?
||And now they are seeing the newer people. Is there even
a split between those who came in the 1970s, that first group,
and those who are coming now?
||There is, of course. Let me put it in the following way.
The German Russians having come to Germany from 1945 to 1955
until the end of the 1980s, could be put in one group because
they really had to fight for their immigration. Many of them
are married to Germans. They and their children were able
to understand the German dialect or German on the whole. But
there was a dramatic change from the end of the 1980s on when
there was a liberation in the Soviet legislation and in the
Commonwealth of Independent States so many could immigrate
Now, many are coming to Germany not knowing any German.
Having, in many cases, non-German spouses or husbands. There
are some hints that it's about 50 percent. So people coming
to us under the category 'Aussiedler' are not always Germans,
they may be the non-German spouses, or children. But our
legislation allows them to immigrate because they are closely
connected, but it has put on more and more restrictions.
||For example, at the Bundestreffen last summer in the lower
basement rooms, there were thousands of Spätaussiedlers. Is
it correct to say that half of them, or how many of them are
|| That's a very hard question to answer. Even in Soviet times
many Germans had to hide themselves under the nationality
of Russians because Germans were discriminated and mistreated
by the KGB and the authorities.
That is a very important thing. Additionally, that is
why they don't speak German the way people in Germany speak
because they had to hide their Germaness, if you want. Then
when the legislation changed or as soon as the conditions
improved, they had the chance to change it. For example,
it was possible to change their nationality on their passports,
whether it was Russian or it could be changed to German.
That was possible, but according to our authorities and
bureaucracies which are dealing with the immigration processes,
look upon it very negatively because they say, "Well, if
you would have been German or if you were German very seriously,
then you would have written it in your passport." In many
cases, they don't know what the situation was. It could
have put their life in danger just to say, "I am German."
||There is an interesting parallel in America. The census
in 1910 and 1920 shows the Germans from Russia often gained
by saying that they are Russian, German or Rumanian depending
on the situation politically. So, some of that fear is an
I would like to now ask: You travel to Kazakhstan, Siberia,
and to other areas. Are you familiar with Germans from Russia
living in those places?
You also have been to North Dakota and I would like to
see what kinds of similarity and differences you see between
these groups of people who have, in effect, been separated
by one hundred years but are of the same ethnic stock.
||That was astonishing to me when I was in North Dakota in
1993 and having the chance to be there and to talk to people
and to listen to them. There are so many similarities a person
in North Dakota can't imagine. That was my first impression.
It turned out, I think, I wasn't very far away from reality.
My thesis was that people in the former Soviet Union or
Germans still living in the former Soviet Union, for example,
the Ukraine (now officially we call the German Russians
in the Ukraine, 'Ukrainian Germans'), the Aussiedlers in
Germany, and the people in North Dakota don't know very
much about their own history.
The old generation may know quite a lot about their history,
but not as much as they could because much was hidden from
them, or there was no chance to get into the archives, or
no interest. On the whole, there were problems with getting
the information about the old history, and that is an important
point. The young generation normally doesn't know anything
or little about their history.
Second, Germans in the former Soviet Union, the Aussiedler,
as well as the people in North Dakota don't know much German.
Maybe they feel themselves as Germans but they have problems
expressing themselves in German or even don't know any German.
The third similarity, but that has changed a little in
Germany itself and the Ukraine, for example, I just want
to mention it because on the whole it may be true today
if we look at the large number of people. The grade of political
participation is relatively low. Among the German population
in the Ukraine or in Russia you find just a couple of them
who are prepared and who are able to express themselves
well in public, or able to join a party, or able to organize
the Germans or to express their interest politically. So
that they are able to build up their own societies, and
to be a German voice in Ukraine, Russia or Kazakhstan.
The same is true of Aussiedlers. Just imagine, from the
end of the 1980s 1.6 or 1.8 million Aussiedlers have come
to Germany. It's a huge number of people being a very important
factor during the elections.
So, what has happened? Up to now there is no party of
German-Russian immigrants. Politically they are not organized.
Maybe they will because there is a discussion among the
German-Russian and the Aussiedler population about organizing
themselves as a politically important factor.
As an example, you see there is now a huge market for
journals and newspapers for German-Russians, for Aussiedler,
and for people reading and speaking Russian. Now we have
many magazines, journals, newspapers for this population.
It doesn't play any role whether it is for German-Russians,
or Jews, or their non-German relatives, it doesn't matter
at all. It's just in Russian and for people from the former
For example, one journal, which is called "EAST WEST",
within one year got the number of subscriptions to twenty-five
thousand. Just imagine, it's unbelievable but it shows that
people have an interest in discussing, reading about their
problems, and also discussing them with others. They are
interested in informing us and our public about themselves,
and the situation in the countries of their origin. Because,
for example, east west dialogue is kind of a bridge between
Germany and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
When I was in North Dakota I met just a few people who
were representing the German communities. My impression
maybe was completely wrong, but my impression was that although
they are organized in the diverse chapters, there is a very
small number of people speaking for the German-Russians
||One of the reason for that may be, they say, for a German-Russian,
a political caucus is to get one German-Russian in one room
because one German-Russian has seven different opinions. There
is a very sharp difference of opinion, perhaps due to religious
differences among them.
||That's very important. I just want to mention one thing
because this might also be an important explanation relating
to political participation. It's a little bit of a wild theory,
if you want it. If we look at the German-Russian representative
in the Soviet times, we see that, especially in the Volga
area, there were many members of German-Russian origin who
were in the Communist Party. It wasn't that much in the Black
My impression of this is, just a short and wild thought,
that especially people from the Black Sea area are very
tough people. You have to convince them and they are very
skeptical towards politics. They want to conduct everything
by themselves, not be ruled by somebody else. That is just
an impression but that was striking to me when I met people
and talked to them. If we have a look at German-Russian
history, it's nearly the same. The skeptics taught authorities
other opinions. We really have to convince somebody. They
are not that, it's really a stereotype. They are not that
quickly engaged in something. They just wait until things
develop a little bit and then make their decision.
||A passive nature, in some ways, with aggressive on the other
edge of that.
||Maybe. That for me is stereotype, but a thing that is typical
for Russians in Ukraine. I deal with the Ukrainians very much,
and at the same time I'm a member of the Bavarian Ukraine
Governmental Commission and during the negotiations it's terms
are very clear. You have to count on some, and you have to
wait on some. That is very difficult. I'm not criticizing,
but that is just how it is. Maybe it's just a little stereotyped
like analysis, but it's an observation.
||Stereotypes do grow out of some kinds of conduct. It's interesting
what you are saying. I think it sounds as if, to some, the
fatalism which is again a kind of stereotype, of the Ukrainians,
or the Russians, who are more fatalistic. That is also a part
of what the Germans from Russia picked up along with food
and certain behavior.
||And now they have to organize their lives and, of course,
The fourth factor I mentioned, which the three groups
have in common, is a very close relation to religion, ethics,
and their moral values. Although, even in my generation,
there are not many people engaged in church, but the standards
and values are correspondingly developed.
||We have that in North Dakota. I think we would see coming
out of many of those small towns, many social workers, ministers,
and educators. People who are involved in some way with the
shaping of younger people's values. And so, even if it is
not religious, it is value based.
||The fifth factor could be the question of information. German-Russians
in Ukraine do not know much about the life of the German-Russians
in Germany, and about the Aussiedler life, and of course,
about life in North Dakota. The same is true about the North
Dakotans, not knowing much about the Aussiedler situation
in Germany, and the life of the German-Russians in Ukraine.
The activities which have been developed since 1994 is
a wonderful experience for people in North Dakota now visiting
the country of their ancestors and so on. Just to see with
their own eyes what is going on and to find some Black Sea
or German-Russian roots in Ukraine, Black Sea or Bessarabia.
That is fascinating to see how they handle it and what they
think about it.
||You've talked about some ways that are the same. Do you
see any particular differences between the groups or are they
the most obvious ones?
||I think the most obvious one is the economic situation.
North Dakota Germans have arranged their lives. Their standard
of living is, I think, relatively high and they are well established
economically. They don't show it to the outside world that
they may be rich. I think that also is difficult. They may
be rich but wear old trousers or something like that which,
in my opinion, is very typical. It fits the picture I have.
It's not criticism, that's how it is and it works. I think
they feel much more like citizens of the United States of
America. They identify themselves much more with the country
they are living in.
German-Russian in Ukraine have difficulties in identifying
themselves with Ukraine in many ways because many of them
don't speak Ukraine. They still speak Russian. They are
coming from Kazakhstan or Siberia. They are living in those
trailer settlements, maybe you have seen some, under disastrous
conditions. If you live in those trailer camps how can you
identify with the state 100 percent? It's a difficult and
very complicated question, concerning the trailer camps.
People in the Ukraine have trouble identifying themselves
with Ukraine as a sovereign state because they think of
living somewhere in Russia, and if you ask people in Kazakhstan,
"Where do you come from?" They will answer, "We are from
And you will say, "Where in Russia?"
They will say, "Kazakhstan."
You answer, "But that's not in Russia."
"Yes, that is Russia," they say back.
That is how they see it, and for people in the USA, if
you speak about the Ukraine they say, "Are you going to
Russia once again?" It is very difficult for them to differentiate.
We in Germany now differentiate very strictly between Russia,
Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. I think that's the difference.
If you think of the Aussiedlers, they also have problems
with identifying themselves with Germany; especially the
younger generations. They have many problems, especially
the young Aussiedlers, because they have left their mother
countries which were their places of living. For example,
they were born in Pavlodar in northern Kazakhstan or in
Omsk and they identify with Pavlodar and Omsk. In many ways,
they followed their parents to Germany. Now they have problems
finding a job, or feeling at home to a certain extent. The
young people build their own worlds in German society. They
push forward their solidarity among the Aussiedlers and
towards other young people. There are many problems. Social
workers can tell stories for hours about that.
||When these people were allowed to leave Siberia and Kazakhstan
in the 1980s as you mentioned, did any of them or many of
them want to go back to Ukraine?
||That's a question I'm asked very often. There are people
who go back, especially to Russia. I don't know anybody who
has gone back to Ukraine, but to Russia, especially to Siberia.
If you compare those numbers with the ones coming to Germany,
then it is a very small number. If you make a comparison with,
for example, 1991 and 1992, then the numbers are increasing,
although it is a small number. We have more and more people
going back voluntarily, without being forced by our authorities,
which is very complicated and completely another question.
Our legislation is really complicated toward Aussiedlers and
non-Germans, husbands children and so on.
||If you were a German Russian in western Siberia in the last
ten years, could you have gone back to your home village in
the Ukraine if you had wanted to?
||Yes. There was a decree in 1972. This decree wasn't published,
that was the problem. It allowed people to go back to their
former places of living. Due to the fact that is wasn't published,
nobody knew about it.
If you have a look at the numbers of Germans in Ukraine
and you compare those with the numbers in the census from
1959 to 1989, there was or could have been a migration to
the Ukraine, only singularly not in large numbers.
||It seems like more of the Volga Germans than the Black Sea
Germans went back.
||Well, there is immigration of the Germans to and from the
Volga area. Now many of them have also left the Volga area.
Many of them, after the decline of the Soviet Union, moved
from Kazakhstan to the Volga area.
Then they tried to establish their new life there with
the help of Germany and Russia. To build their own houses
and so on. They didn't succeed because it was very difficult.
The reasons were structural, jobs, and so on. It was the
same problems in the Ukraine.
Many of them, because there was no serious change in their
lives, left once again from the Volga area and immigrated
This has something to do with the policy of assistance
by the German, the Ukraine, and the Russian governments.
There was a vision and this was a problem, especially in
There is an example I would like to mention, the vision
to put people in the middle of the prairie. The Germans
from Kazakhstan or Siberia were invited to places in the
middle of the prairie. There were the trailer settlements.
The idea was that people would come to the trailer houses.
They would get material, build their own houses, build their
new societies and lives in the Southern Ukraine. Later there
would be German counties or maybe German districts in Ukraine,
in the Volga, or in Siberia. It has happened, but not in
the Ukraine. It was just a vision.
||Or in the Carpathians?
||Right. From the beginning I was very skeptical because every
expert on regional development would tell you that, if you
had this kind of migration with a Soviet background, it always
has to be taken into account that you never bring people to
the middle of the prairie and stop there. The people have
to be integrated into an already existing infrastructure,
with schools, jobs, and with chances to additionally do something
for the existing community.
There was a vision and I was skeptical, but it turned
out as you have seen in the Ukraine. The trailers are now
history, although they still exist. The problems of assisting
the Germans concentrates on the Odessa oblast and on two
villages not far from Odessa, Alexanderhilf and Neuburg.
Although in Alexanderhilf, there are no Germans. Only
in Neuburg there are just a few Germans. The houses have
been built and everything may start. You see, it's much
better to start there than in the middle of nowhere because
you have Odessa. You might find a job. The harbor is not
very far away. Odessa is a city of trade tradition. It offers
more jobs than the middle of nowhere. It is logical that
this is much better than to start in the middle of nowhere.
||Do you see this then as the thrust of the German government
for assistance in the Ukraine, to build these villages closer
to Odessa or a large city?
||It took a long time for them to realize that. I have criticized
that from the very beginning. My point was to bring people
to the already existing infrastructure.
||Are they, the German government, going to put money into
||Yes, of course, but there is a special commission to get
together with the Ukraine on that issue. They meet regularly
to discuss problems.
||How many million dollars have been put into that?
||I think since 1992, when this started, maybe 30 million
||All of the people we talked to in Peterstal have had papers
of application to Germany for three years or more. They are
still waiting. In some of the other villages where we were,
even as far away as Kassel and Glückstal Gebiet, they seem
to be waiting and they don't know when they are to come to
Germany. There are, as you suggested, many and complex problems
involving language, family history, or whether they consider
themselves Germans or not. Perhaps the main reason for people
to be waiting is
END OF SIDE A. GAP IN DIALOGUE
||Reason for people not to come to Germany is just to wait
to see if the situation improves in Germany. Another reason
may be that they are afraid of the language test. The third
reason may be that they are waiting for other members of their
family who still are living in Kazakhstan or Kirghistan and
they want to immigrate with them all together which is a German
Russian tradition, and is very typical. The fourth reason
may be that they were promised a new house, a new building,
or a better place to live and that is why they stay.
Maybe it is better to live in a house in Ukraine than
to live in a small apartment of 30 square meters and sharing
the 30 square meters with 5 persons. Many people from Ukraine
or Russia are used to it, but in Germany, nobody is used
to it. The indigenous population would not stand that situation,
but there are many of them who have done that.
||Maybe you could revisit the criteria that a German in Siberia
or the Ukraine would have to meet if they would want to immigrate.
What are the standards they would have to meet before they
are allowed to immigrate?
||Three or four main points I think have to do with......
||Yes. They have to have German origin. German nationality
on their passport is very important. Then they have to have
relatives or someone intervening or someone who may invite
The third is they have to educate their children in the
German way, whatever this may be. So you have to teach your
children German, you have to educate them with German values
or culture. That's very important. That's a category which
is not precise, but is very vague. To make a decision, if
you go to court, is very difficult.
||What do you find is the most interesting part of the work
you do, in relation to the Germans from Russia? What do you
really like to do or what excites you?
||Many things but just to mention one of the most important
is when I am traveling through the countries, to talk to the
people, and to see what is going on there. To talk with many
people and to see with my own eyes what is going on and then
to analyze and talk with my colleagues.
Something which is really fascinating for me is dealing
with the questions because I am always asked, "What would
you do, how would you decide or what comment could you give?"
Of course, that is for a scholar sitting in an institute.
It is exciting because I feel what I am doing is somewhere
in heaven, but it is in real life. Just to influence a little
or to help to do something is fascinating.
||What is the hardest part of your job? The most difficult
in relation to the Germans from Russia?
||Time. It's a question of time because I would like to go
more often to Ukraine or Siberia but it's not possible because
my work is here. So it is very difficult to arrange.
Another thing is if you want to fight against prejudices.
You may write hundreds of books and articles informing people
about difficult situations for German Russians in Siberia,
Kazakhstan, and about the reasons why they immigrate. One
article in a German newspaper or in the yellow press and
you may have to start from the very beginning once again.
That is something which makes you very angry, if you have
the feeling that you have to start at the beginning again
We thought, and many of my colleagues as well, that if
we published something or many things and regularly informed
people, they would know about it. But I always have the
impression that you have to start from the very beginning.
The same is true of representatives in many states and
organizations, if somebody is new or the organization's
technical assistants. Someone who has worked for this organization
in the USA or the Caribbean Sea may know how to use a surf
board, but is he prepared to deal with Siberia with that
information? I don't think so. So you have to inform him
from the very beginning and that is a problem. Sometimes
it makes me angry but that is normal. You have to accept
it. If you get angry about that all the time, you'll get
a heart attack. Once is enough.
||You like to go to the villages, to travel, or to have a
'hands on' experience on what is going on. Can you think of
a particular incident or experience that might reflect something
about German Russians in Russia or Ukraine?
||I don't understand.
||When you travel or when you go out and you are talking to
people, can you think of a time when it was particularly cogent
or a time when you felt you learned something very important
from, let's say, a particular family or incident?
That something stands out and may be in some way representative
of broader issues.
||Let's take a little bit of my own experience. My grandfather's
second cousin was in Neuburg where I visited. They cannot
speak any German and I don't think they will ever have the
possibility of coming to Germany. It was a powerful experience
||Do they want to come to Germany?
||They would like to, but I think it too hard for them.
||This is a very important question because it is not only
dealing with German Russians but societies in Eastern Europe
as a whole. We have different communication cultures, to say
the same words doesn't mean the same to me. Therefore, I have
learned very much about the different cultures, ways of thinking,
ways of expressing oneself.
||For example, when I visited some congresses of the Rebirth
Societies, I was lucky to join the first congress in 1990.
It was fascinating for me to see those German Russians who
formerly had no chance to meet officially. They were together
there and I had the chance to talk to the people privately,
as somebody from Germany, without the KGB.
||And that was in Russia?
||In Moscow. I went to several congresses. I had the chance
to listen to their speeches and to their cultural discussions
and to see how they handled the questions. This was very important
because you get a feeling for situations, and for people.
So you'll get to know better how they think, how to discuss
with them, and what their standards are.
This is also important if you want to do something with
them because cooperation is not just getting some assistance
and nothing more. To me that is the worst way. Maybe it
is the beginning, but the best kind of cooperation is we
have to learn from them as well. They learn from us and
we learn from them. That, for me, is the most important
experience and I have had it many times. That has helped
me a lot.
When I was in Siberia officially and unofficially as a
scholar and in a delegation, it helped me a lot.
||Can you think of a specific word or manner that might indicate
that kind of communication, or difference?
||I could describe a situation. Say that two university directors
meet, one is of Siberian origin and one of is German origin.
They meet in Siberia and they know one another a little. The
Siberian colleague is showing to the German partner some department
at the university. Then he said, "It would be very fine if
we could get a new Xerox."
The German would say as he would understand it. He would
say, "Well, I will see what I can do. I will do what I can."
This means he will go back to Germany and he would ask at
his university or he would ask someone. If there is no money,
then that's alright, there is no money.
But in that situation as soon as he says, "Well, I will
see and do what I can," for the Russian, it is clear. The
Xerox will come.
It may sound strange but it is typical. Just imagine the
consequences. One is expecting the Xerox and the other is
saying, "No, there won't be any". So, one has to be very
careful with promises and situations where promises could
be created by the surroundings, by persons or by the institutions
or whatever, spontaneously. That is one of the biggest disasters
in German policy talks with Russia or Ukraine, that many
delegations, just come to people over there, see the disasters
they are living in, and are unable to help.
They will say, "We'll do something for you." But, when
they are back in Germany, it's nothing but blah, blah. You
create catastrophes at the peoples level, their view of
Germany, and their hopes toward Germany. That is very bad.
This has a contra-productive effect on the policy, of course.
You may go there and say the situation in Germany has deteriorated.
It is hard to live there. The Aussiedlers in Germany will
not believe a single word.
||When the Aussiedler comes here, are they welcome?
||In general, no. They have many problems to be accepted as
Germans because they normally speak Russian. That's the reason
why there is a special program to learn German for Germans
in Russia and Ukraine. It's a kind of language offensive.
This, of course, is a good thing for people who want to be
German and who want to learn their German, their mother tongue
once again or to refresh it.
On the other hand, you may earn admissibility. If you
don't feel German at all, or if you don't have any contact
with the German language, and if you now learn German, you
have the chance to get a little German ethnicity although
you are not interested in your ethnic background or if your
background is something different.
||Almost like America in that sense of being in America.
||Yes. That's very interesting. So, you may earn ethnicity.
That's completely new.
||A German society. How about lifestyles, I mean you would
see in your travels that the lifestyle, in the Ukraine is
so drastically different from the way it is here in Germany.
I would imagine in Siberia, it's got to be culture shock.
||Of course it is. There was some source of information, letters
and reports of relatives. If you officially give them some
information, they will say, "No my relatives have told me
that blah, blah." This is a German Russian tradition. You
just believe your own people.
Of course, it's not so funny just to live in a small apartment
for years, but they are used to the situation. In the beginning,
many of them say, "Well, I survived and I'm just happy to
be in Germany and I will stand the situation. That's no
problem for me." Then it turns out the longer they live
there, the more they want to profit and the more they want
to do for themselves in German society and profit from it.
Well, there have been surveys conducted that are showing
that in the beginning, the people are satisfied, but after
a certain time, if they are still living in the small apartments,
and they are still waiting for a job, they have their problems
in the family. One part of the family is now voting for
immigration to Russia or Ukraine, which is also very possible.
Then the situation changes significantly.
||So, there are some very large social problems as a result
of this immigration of Germans from Russia? How long do you
think it will take before those problems are solved? Is it
a generational issue and the assimilation may take generations?
||It may be a generation. Of course, it has something to do
with German society itself and with the economic situation
in Germany. The better the economic situation, the faster
the people coming to our country are accepted because they
are not viewed or seen as competitors or the cause of the
problems. Our economic situation right now is very critical
and that is the reason the people say, "I don't want to lose
my job in favor of a German-Russian."
||How did you get interested in this whole topic? How did
you get involved in it?
||Well, at the university I once had the chance to visit a
seminar on multi-lingualism and due to the fact that my family
background is more Dutch than German and I knew some languages,
I took some interest in that phenomenon of multi-lingualism
in the former Soviet Union, and the Commonwealth of Independent
States is a fascinating topic. That's the reason I was fascinated
by it and that's when it all began.
At the university I had the chance as a student to work
with research projects, and was already seriously involved
in the research, and that was another motivating factor.
||How many languages do you speak?
||I studied Russian, French, English, Dutch, Ukraine, German
and dialect. Some Italian, I can understand but French helps
||One question I would like to ask. How you got interested
and why you have a passion for this? I think we touched on
a lot of interesting things. We certainly could continue.
So, what would you tell my grandfather's second cousins in
||Make your own decision. I would never say stay there or
come to Germany. But if you really want to come to Germany,
then you might come, but you should know there are problems
||If you were in Kazakhstan?
||If I would know Kazak, that would be the first thing I would
learn. Then speaking Kazak and having no chance to be accepted
by Kazak, then I would leave. If I have a dangerous life in
south Kazakhstan maybe. In northern Kazakhstan, I don't know.
||What about Siberia?
||It depends on the situation. If I'm well established, knowing
Russian and German, perfect German, and having a chance to
get involved in some German Russian project or cooperations.
Then, why not stay in Russia if I am happy there?
||Is the German government as a whole, and German businesses,
taking a big interest in Russia as a market?
||Of course. They are really doing it. There are many programs
relating to assisting, cooperations, and joint ventures. That's
the reason they have supported Yeltsin. If there was a Zuganov,
things would have been developed differently.
||So it's not a drain of finances to put money into the Ukraine?
It is also seen as an investment in the market. Not only that,
it is righting some wrongs that were done in the past. Maybe
that is another question, how was the legal apparatus set
into motion in Germany so that there was the situation to
bring Germans from Russia back to Germany?
What is the political situation that caused this immigration
to Germany? The climate? Why now? Why in the early 1990s,
particularly other than the [Berlin] wall, the fall of the
Soviet Empire or was that the primary reason?
||Why the Germans came to the Ukraine, you mean?
||Why the Germans are being allowed back into Germany? The
political situation and climate in Germany? Is it a moral
||I have already mentioned that in the beginning. The integration
policy is closely connected with the policy of assisting.
The German society had problems with the integration of hundreds
of thousands of people from East Germany, Romania, asylum
seekers and everyone, and with the economics.
At the same time, and afterwards, there was a liberalization
in the Soviet Union. The German government just took the
chance to use it for it's purposes, saying that the situation
related to integration had deteriorated, the acceptance
of the indigenous populations, the economic condition and
On the other hand, the chances for cooperation have improved.
Therefore, they say you may come to Germany but it is better
if you stay where you are. That's how it is. No one would
say that openly, but our authorities are dealing with the
regulation of immigration. You can see that concretely if
you have a look at the numbers. They are practically the
same numbers, one year after another. This is fascinating,
one hundred ninety seven thousand five hundred forty, the
next year, one hundred ninety seven thousand six hundred
thirty. How is this if you have, let's say, four hundred
thousand applications for immigration? So, there is something
wrong. There is a kind of regulation of immigration.
And relating to the Ukraine question, and the problem
of the resettlement? There is a kind of competition among
the leaders of the independent states. Yeltzin offered the
Volga Republic and it was brought down by the local population
in Saratow, etc. They refused. They said, "We would prefer
aid instead of a Volga Reublic.
At the same time there was an offer from Kirghizstan from
President Akia (SP.?). Delegations went over there and they
had a good drink and wonderful meals with the partner in
Kirghizstan and many talks. Somebody donated some sheep
and they were transported in a airplane. Everybody felt
fine, but nothing happened.
From 1989 until today more than seventy thousand Germans
have left Kirghizstan. In Kazakhstan there are always talks
about assisting the Germans from the Kazakh point of view,
to assist them, help them, and to make them feel at home
in their mother country, Kazakhstan. In reality, it is just
the opposite. That's the reason why, officially, we had
three hundred seventy thousand in Kazakhstan at the beginning
When all that failed; President Kravchuk of the Ukraine
made the offer for the return of four hundred thousand Germans
in southern Ukraine and it was a sensation. Bourne was built
and officially Germany and Ukraine had negotiation and it
started. It turned out that just twelve thousand five hundred
or a little more came to Ukraine.
||It's hard to find a German-Russian in southern Ukraine or
Rebirth. You just don't see them. Just my relatives. They
showed me the same cave they built many decades ago. They
came back early in the 1956 or 1957, back to Neuburg. Very
unusual in that sense.
||Maybe they hide themselves under non-German nationality?
||That's possible. It sounds like they hid themselves.You
hear many different things on the politics from people who
don't really know about it. That is very confusing.
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